Friday, December 19, 2014
Friday Freebie: The Kept by James Scott, Glyph by Percival Everett, What Happened Here by Bonnie ZoBell, All I Have In This World by Michael Parker, Arts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha, Our Senior Year by John Abraham-Watne, The Gods of Second Chances by Dan Berne, and Harm's Reach by Alex Barclay
Congratulations to Michael Cooper, winner of last week's Friday Freebie contest: Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell and Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly.
This week's book giveaway is an eclectic grab-bag of titles to stuff your Christmas stocking (though, by the time the books arrive at the winner's house, it will be more like a New Year's gift). Up for grabs: paperback copies of The Kept by James Scott, Glyph by Percival Everett, What Happened Here by Bonnie ZoBell, All I Have In This World by Michael Parker, Arts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha, Our Senior Year by John Abraham-Watne, The Gods of Second Chances by Dan Berne, and Harm's Reach by Alex Barclay. Read on for more information about each book:
Click here to read about James Scott's "first time."
A Life in Men) BONUS: Click here to read about Bonnie ZoBell's "first time."
Click here to read about Michael Parker's "first time."
click here to visit his website. BONUS: Click here to read about John Abraham-Watne's "first time."
If you’d like a chance at winning ALL THE BOOKS, simply email your name and mailing address to
Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Dec. 25, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 26. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).
Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
It seems appropriate to be talking about favorite book cover designs around this time of year. Christmas, after all, is all about bright, attractive paper wrapped around surprises which are just a finger-rip away. Sure, sometimes those concealed gifts turn out to be puzzling disappointments like socks embroidered with leaping trout or the annual Avon soap-on-a-rope from a well-meaning grandmother (I'm speaking from personal childhood trauma here), but even those Christmas duds are usually nice to look at before the paper is torn away.
Book jackets are the gift-wrap of the publishing world. While we shouldn't judge the contents of a book by its cover, it's hard to ignore that first impression, isn't it? I'll be the first to admit, I sometimes buy a book based entirely on the lure of its cover (including a couple of the ones listed below). Call me shallow, but I like my words packaged in eye-candy.
Here are my favorite designs of books published in 2014. I've listed the designer's name whenever possible; some of them also popped up on last year's Best Covers list--that's because they're damned good at what they do.
The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes
Design by Gabrielle WilsonThe cover design for Vanderbes' novel about a young woman searching for her brother who is missing in action in Italy was one of the first to catch my attention in 2014. Half a profile and one eye of a World War Two-era WAC can be seen behind a sheet of yellowed, stained and torn memo paper which bears the book's title and a small red cross (nicely linked to the girl's bright red lipstick as well as her job as an Army nurse).
All Russians Love Birch Trees by Olga Grjasnowa
Design by Gray318Turning the cover into birch bark itself may have seemed like an obvious move, but I think the simplicity of those little slits and the big bold font of the title are all we really need.
The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams
Design by Andrea CardenasI love how the titular building is so faint you can barely see it perched above the dark grassy knoll which is under most of the title and the author's name. This is as atmospheric as a fog-swirled Manderley.
The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin Go
Design by Christopher LinSideways landscapes seem to be all the rage lately (see also: California by Edan Lepucki and We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas), but I think the design and illustration for Justin Go's debut is one of my favorites--both for the deep, delicious blues which contrast the white peaks and the egg-yolk-yellow moon in "of," but also for the subtle way the mirror image of the mountain range takes on an hourglass shape, linking back to the title itself.
Winterkill by Kate A. Boorman
Design by Maria T. MiddletonHere's an instance where I did buy the book based on the cover. Sure, the perspective is all skewed if you really think about it, but the illustration muscles its way right into our eyes to announce what the book is about: a girl fleeing a threatening place (I love those whittled-sharp points on the title's lettering!), making her way along "the wayward path" through deep snow. I immediately wanted to know why she was running and what she'd do once she got to her destination.
Illustration by Shane Rebebschied
Illustration by Shane Rebebschied
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Design by Allison SaltzmanIn this novel, set in Amsterdam in 1686, a bride receives an unusual wedding gift from her husband: a miniature replica of their house. That world-within-a-world idea is nicely echoed in the snowy street scene found in the folds of the parakeet-bearing woman's dress. While I love the spectrum of blues at work here, the green exclamation point of the bird and the splash of yellowed scroll beneath the title are brilliant notes of beauty.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Design by Tal Goretsky and Lynn BuckleyI really seemed to have a thing for blue covers this year and with that wide expanse of sky, the design for Doerr's masterful novel was one of the best. If you've read All the Light We Cannot See (and if you haven't, what are you waiting for?!), you know the central role the walled citadel of Saint-Malo plays in the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives intersect during World War Two. This design wins the prize for Most-Looked-At in 2014: as I got deeper and deeper into the novel, I kept turning back to the cover to stare at the landscape of Saint-Malo.
Photo by Manuel Clauzier
Photo by Manuel Clauzier
Young God by Katherine Faw Morris
Design by Rodrigo CorralKatherine Faw Morris' debut novel about a 13-year-old girl involved with the drug trade in North Carolina is raw, relentless and in-your-face with language that scarcely pauses to take a breath. Likewise, Rodrigo Corral's cover design of that powder-dusted (cocaine?) hand literally reaches out to beckon us onto the first page. I love the wry humor of putting the title and author text on the middle finger.
Photo by George Baier IV
Photo by George Baier IV
Doll Palace by Sara Lippmann
Design by Kelly Rae BahrSara Lippmann's story collection from new small indie publisher Dock Street Press is brightly decorated with a rainbow of paper dolls; making one of them battered and crumpled was a brilliant move.
Bicentennial by Dan Chiasson
Design by Carol Devine CarsonWhen I bought this collection of poetry at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, Montana, the girl behind the counter groaned, "God, now I'm hungry for pizza." Well, yes, the cover is a tasty one, but the contents are just as delicious. Bicentennial celebrates America's 200th birthday in the 168-line poem that serves as the collection's rousing finale, but fireworks shoot off everywhere on these pages in stanzas about growing up in Vermont, Chiasson's mixed feelings about his absentee father, and, yes, what's it's like to wait for the delivery of a pizza when you're a young, hormone-fueled kid.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel FaberI love the Michelangelo vibe going on here. Are the hands reaching out to connect, or have they just let go and now they're falling away from each other in space? The ambiguity is pertinent to this big novel which is bursting with ideas about faith and love and global apocalypse.
I Love You More by Jennifer MurphyThe tagline for Jennifer Murphy's novel is "One man, three wives, the perfect murder." As far as I'm concerned, this is the perfect cover for a novel about scheming widows. That gleaming gun set against the black dresses introduces just the right air of mystery and menace.
Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly
Design by Gretchen MergenthalerSpeaking of menace, is anyone else creeped out by the stare-down contest coming from Paula Daly's new novel? This girl--the "other woman" who threatens to break up a marriage--has Trouble written all over her face. The fact that designer Gretchen Mergenthaler fenced off that face behind the big font of the book's title doesn't make me feel any more relaxed.
The Disunited States by Vladimir Pozner
Design by Janet BruesselbachVladimir Pozner's Studs Terkel-esque "travelogue" about life in Depression-era American was originally published in French in 1938. Seven Stories Press released it in a fresh translation this year here in the U.S. and, from what I've read in its pages, The Disunited States is an evocative verbal photo album of what life was like during those hard times. Dorothea Lange's photo on the cover shows two vagrants heading down a highway in search of their dreams...or perhaps just their next meal. Extra kudos for that spot-on line-break in the title.
Cementville by Paulette LiversNo, the neatly-folded flag floating in a creek seems rather unlikely, but I get the symbolism. Paulette Livers' novel, set in a small Kentucky town in 1969, is about how families and friends are torn apart by the news that seven young men from the town have been killed in a single ambush in Vietnam. When their bodies come back in coffins, that's when trouble really starts brewing in Cementville. So, yeah, maybe somebody does toss a flag into a muddy creek. One of the things I like best about this cover is the way the title seems to rise out of the landscape itself. Symbolism again.
Design by Michael Kellner
Design by Michael Kellner
Straight White Male by John Niven
Design by Sam WolgemuthI don't know about you, but I see a martini glass.
Essays After Eighty by Donald Hall
Design by Martha KennedyDavid Mendelsohn's photo of former U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall's face is cropped to perfection. We need a roadmap to navigate those dry creek beds, the hilly pouches, and that magnificent forest of a beard. I could stare at Donald Hall's face all day long and come away with a dozen different stories. Mortality is one theme of Hall's new collection of essays (he writes: "In the morning, I turn on the coffee, glue in my teeth, take four pills, swallow Metamucil and wipe it off my beard, fasten a brace over my buckling knee...then read the newspaper and drink black coffee") and this in-your-face jacket design lets us know we're in for some bracing, honest discussions about death, beards, marriage, cooking and sex--all told from Hall's ancestral home on Eagle Pond in New Hampshire. The state's famed "Old Man of the Mountain" granite outcropping collapsed in 2003. I nominate Mr. Hall's visage as a suitable replacement.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Every book has to start somewhere, right?
These were some of the greatest opening lines of 2014 books I came across this year. Whether it was through startling imagery, clever grammatical construction or just plain oddness, these first sentences worked hard to get my attention. They entranced, they intrigued, they hooked, they pulled me inside, they persuaded me to linger. Whether or not the rest of the book held up to that first promise isn't the issue here (though, in most cases, these books do deliver the goods). What matters is the first impression. These lines were the unforgettable ones.
P.S. If you want to read the rest of the words in these books, make sure you click the title link beneath each sentence and order your copy from R. J. Julia Booksellers.
We shot dogs.
Redeployment by Phil Klay
It felt like a noble gesture at the time, and I was in the mood for an adventure.
Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn
A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
Once upon a time, in a far off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
I'm pretty much fucked.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Patterson Wells walks through the front door to find Chase working on a heap of crystal meth the size of his shrunken head.
Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer
The end came for Jane, and so for us, at the edge of spring, when the leaves of the north country were washed in that impossible shade of lemonade green.
The Carry Home by Gary Ferguson
They never found his hands.
The Forgers by Bradford Morrow
There was a town, and there was a librarian, and there was a fire.
Shouldn't You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket
On the steps of the old mission house, the sergeant sat with the boy who called himself Robin, and watched a pigeon being swallowed by a pelican.
Tigerman by Nick Harkaway
The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
On a very cold and lonely Friday last November, my father disappeared from the Dictionary.
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
We found the woman floating facedown in an eddy where Crooked River made a slow bend north, just a stone skip away from the best swimming hole this side of anywhere.
Crooked River by Valerie Geary
Exactly once upon a time in a small village in northern Iran, a child of the wrong color was born.
The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour
Every night I stunned myself with gin.
A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc
There was a time, not long ago, when it was illegal to kill people.
Pills and Starships by Lydia Millett
A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central Park, four days after Barrett had been mauled, once again, by love.
The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham
By the time Joan of Arc proclaimed herself La Pucelle, the virgin sent by God to deliver France from its enemies, the English, she had been obeying the counsel of angels for five years.
Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison
They buried my wife in a shoe box in Central Park.
Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich
The moose head was fixed to the wall, the microphone in its mouth was broken, but the camera in its left eye was working just fine, and as far as the moose head could see, this was just another Friday night in the Lumber Lodge!
The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke
Leroy Kervin opened his eyes to see a woman in a blue-and-white-starred bikini holding a pneumatic drill.
The Free by Willy Vlautin
I've always believed that one of the great reasons to be alive is that we don't know what's coming around the next corner.
Good Grief! by Ellen Stimson
Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park.
Brainquake by Samuel Fuller
Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Ira had been divorced six months and still couldn't get his wedding ring off.
Bark by Lorrie Moore
Let's go out
and fart in the sunlight.
A Momentary Glory: Last Poems by Harvey Shapiro
I crash through the screen door, arms flailing like two loose propellers, stumbling like a woman on fire: hair and clothes ablaze.
The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson
For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming.
The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai
You are a hairy painting.
Mad Honey Symposium by Sally Wen Mao
There is a bullet here on my desk.
Talkativeness by Michael Earl Craig
Pretend I'm not already dead.
A Life in Men by Gina Frangello
The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The rumors started before my daddy’s body got cold.
I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
This is the story of a murder, of a single soft-nosed bullet that traveled upward through a man’s rib cage, piercing his lung and lodging in his neck, after being fired by an unknown assailant 92 years ago on a cold Los Angeles night.
Tinseltown by William Mann
The plane smelled of sweat and perfume.
Friday Was the Bomb by Nathan Deuel
We feel them coming, the low vibration of their wheels, a dark convoy descending upon us, pitching north like a swarm lobbed from the fist of a spiteful deity.
Cementville by Paulette Livers
Behold Tommy Arney: six-one, two-forty, biceps big as most men’s thighs and displayed to maximum effect in the black wifebeater that is his warm-weather fashion essential.
Auto Biography by Earl Swift
The cop flicked his cigarette to the dirt and gravel road in front of the house, and touched back his hat over his hairline as the social worker drove up in a dusty Toyota Corolla.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
Because I'd seen part of a documentary on gurus who slept on beds of nails, and because I'd tried to quit smoking before my wife came back home after leaving for nine months in order to birth our first child--though she would come back childless and say it was all a lie she made up in order to check into some kind of speech clinic up in Minnesota to lose her bilateral lisp--I had a dream of chairs and beds adorned entirely with ancient car cigarette lighters.
Between Wrecks by George Singleton